[Pictured: Samuel Isaac Schereschewsky: Messianic Rabbi and missionary to the Jews.]
"For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Rom. 1:16)
I'm sometimes asked: how relevant is this verse for today? Clearly 2000 years ago St. Paul taught that the gospel of salvation should be offered to Jews first, as a priority. And then at some point in his ministry, he changed tactics. When they as a people largely rejected Jesus, he then went to the Gentiles; (i.e., "the nations"). The NIV translation says "Gentiles" in place of "Greeks" because throughout most of the Roman Empire if you weren't Jewish, you were either Greek or were so influenced by the Greeks in culture and language that you were Greek in everything but ethnicity.
So at some point, Paul changed his missionary tactics when his own people proved unresponsive. In a particularly nasty confrontation in Macedonia, "Paul was compelled by the Spirit and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.' (Acts 18:6)
The amazing thing about evangelism to Jews is that for each clear statement Scripture makes about this, a multitude of additional questions arise. Reminds me of that quote attributed to Albert Einstein: "For every new thing I discover about the universe, it only creates more questions." No doubt, God's word on this (and everything!) is exceedingly rich, and thus there areso many implications to everything it says. But Christian ministry to Jews is complex; probably more complex than to any other people. Reminds me of that other quote attributed to ... (I forget, actually ... Henny Youngman, maybe?) "Jews are just like everybody else, only more so." But just because evangelism to Jews is complex doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. Because even after Paul changed his tactics and went to the Gentiles in Macedonia, he still made a habit, in the regions and towns he visited, to try to first speak to his own countrymen. Some believed, most did not. You could say the same about most anypeople. So what else is new?
Okay, so then why is gospel ministry to Jews complex? And the corollary to that question is, "Why should it still should be done?"
1. Jews resist the gospel, yet Scripture promises a blessing to the Church for Jewish missions work.
Read Romans 11: 11 and 15. Regardless of what you think this this text is saying, and granted, the text creates more questions than it answers, notice at least this: it's saying that if their rejection of Christ meant blessing for the nations, their conversion to Him will yield blessings more abundant. Verse 15 is a parallel passage to verse 11. (It's saying the same thing.) And Paul wrote this after he had been commissioned as an apostle to the Gentles! He was saying that though the Jews were no longer his primary mission field, that blessing on their inclusion into the fold of Christ still remains. Why? Christians can debate this question endlessly, yet the statement still stands as true. Go figure.
2. Jews define themselves AS Jews by (among other things) NOT believing in Jesus.
There is no Jewish world consensus as to what a Jew actually is. The State of Israel has one definition. Reform ("liberal") Judaism has another. Orthodox Judaism has a third. There are those within each group who think of it as a culture, or a race, or a religion, or a mixture of all. The closest thing to a statement of faith they have is Maimonides's Thirteen Points, and not even all agree to that. There are atheistic, communistic, and religious Jews. But the one thing that they're in consensus about is that a Jew cannot be a Christian. For a Jew to call upon Jesus as Savior, Lord or Messiah, makes him a non-Jew in all the major Jewish communities. "Messianic" Judaism is not accepted as an alternate form of the faith. Consequently, for a Jew to believe in Jesus is a major cultural, social and religious hurdle. At the time when the N.T. Epistles and Gospels were written, this was not the problem that it is today. But in AD 90 the synagogues, at the Council of Jamnia (or "Jabneh") in Roman Palestine, declared all Jews who believed in Christ as heretics and "non-Jews". And this prejudice has remained until today. Yet if you read the rest of Romans 11, the text anticipates this Jewish rejection of Jesus, yet still priorities Jewish mission work. Go figure! Any comments or question? Then let me hear from you. At www.chaim.org, or www.scripturesdramatized.com
3. Jewish religious schools teach their children an aspect of church history that Christian religious schools never teach their children.
By the time most Jewish boys and girls reach the age of Bar-Mitzah (or Bat-Mitzvah) they know about the pogroms, the Crusader massacres of Jewish communities, the blood libels, the Spanish Inquisition, the Church-sponsored expulsions of Jews from almost every country in Europe, and the Holocaust. And in each case, aside from the Holocaust, they're taught that the major persecutor was the Church. The irony is ... they're correct: The organized, visible Church with all its problems and bigotries, indeed did those things. But what they're not taught is that those same churches were persecutors of true Christians too. But while the persecuted continued to worship God more fervently, the Jews used that persecution as their excuse to continue to reject to gospel.
4. Mission work among Jews yields small numbers of converts, yet Scripture promises a blessing to the Church for doing it.
If a church is solely focused on numbers of converts as a gage to decide how to allocate resources, it misses the point of Jewish evangelism, Read Romans 11: 11 and 15. Regardless of what you think this text is saying, and granted, that text creates more questions than it answers, notice at least this: it's saying that since their rejection of Christ meant blessing for the nations, then their conversion to Him will yield blessings more abundant. Verse 15 is a parallel passage to verse 11. (It's saying the same thing.) And Paul wrote this after he had been commissioned as an apostle to the Gentles He was saying that though the Jews were no longer his primary mission field; still, that blessing about their inclusion into the fold of Christ remains. Christians can debate the "whys" of this question endlessly, yet the statement still stands as true, according to Paul.